Last year, Amazon introduced its smart glasses product, the Echo Frames. They’re still a bit of a work in progress and you can only get them by requesting an invite, which Amazon has to approve. My invite was recently accepted so after we spent the $179 preview price (full retail will be $249 when these are generally available), I received the Echo Frames and I’ve been wearing them for the past two weeks.
Are they worth the price tag? That’s difficult to say but I think for most people, no, they’re not. Let me tell you why after explaining what they are and what they do.
Amazon Echo Frames are a much simpler take than Google Glass, the first, and very expensive at $1,500, smart glasses I’ve ever worn. Google Glass has a camera and a heads-up display. The Amazon Echo Frames do not.
Instead, these are standard-looking glasses frames with a thicker-than-normal temple (the side of the frames that rest on your ear).
Those are where the internals reside: The battery, small processing chip, Bluetooth radio, two microphones, and four speakers. Even with those components inside the frames, you’d be hard-pressed to see these as anything but regular glasses if you saw someone wearing them. The Echo Frames come with clear lenses, by the way. You can have your prescription lens fitted to the frames but of course, that’s another out-of-pocket expense.
One of the side arms is a touch and swipe sensor and there’s also a small button for power as well as a rocker arm for volume adjustments. Again, you wouldn’t see them if you didn’t know they were there.
The Echo Frames work exactly as advertised, are well-designed and the setup is drop-dead simple, taking all of a minute through the Alexa app.
When paired with your phone and the Alexa app on Bluetooth, they bring Alexa to your face. They’re always listening for the “Alexa” command, which works well, and you can mute your microphones when needed. In my testing, Echo Frames got the vast majority of my voice commands correctly.
The two pairs of speakers are aimed at your ears and it’s easy to hear Alexa when you ask for her help. You can also listen to music over Bluetooth from your phone and it sounds OK. Since the small speakers aren’t in your ears, the sound quality is marginal at best; don’t expect much bass, for example. On the plus side, there aren’t any speakers actually in your ear so you can hear the world around you while enjoying a little music.
Since Echo Frames are connected to your phone, you can take or dismiss phone calls, just like any other Bluetooth headset, with the touch-sensitive gesture area. People I called said the voice quality was very good although one person noted a little wind noise when I was outside on a call. For Android users, Echo Frames can also read your phone notifications allowed; that’s a feature I couldn’t test because it’s not available for iPhone yet. You can also set up a VIP list to only allow certain notifications to be accepted by the frames.
One feature that is on both Android and iOS is texting by voice. It works well from a text translation process but sends an audio file of the text to your contact as well as the message you sent. That’s odd and I hope Amazon drops the audio file feature or lets you turn it off, in a future update.
Aside from using Echo Frames for calls, texts, and various questions for information, I also tested them as a smart home voice controller with a few of my devices still connected to my Amazon Echo. The Frames worked no differently from my Echo in this case, which is a good thing. And if you prefer to use the native voice assistant on your phone, such as Siri or Google Assistant, you can do that with a button press on the frames. You understandably can’t have Echo Frames always be listening for them, however.
So why am I not too keen on the Echo Frames? There are two main reasons.
First, the battery life is a bit lacking, which confounds me since I have smaller smartwatches that can get through two full days of use. Amazon says you can expect about “14 hours of battery life in mixed usage of 40 Alexa interactions, 45 minutes of music, podcast or other audio playback, 20 minutes of phone calls, and 90 incoming notifications”.
I didn’t try to replicate these figures exactly but they sound accurate based on my tests. And I was able to listen to music for nearly 3.5 hours on a full charge, which exceeds Amazon’s expectation of three hours. But I never made it to 14 hours with mixed usage. And the battery charger is a proprietary magnetic connector, which I’m not a fan of.
Second, even with Echo Frames, you still need your phone with you at all times to use Alexa. Paying $250 just to move Alexa from the phone in your hand to the glasses on your face is a big ask to me.
I’d feel differently if they could do more, such as track some health data, for example.
You could actually get that feature, along with Alexa, sleep tracking, and up to 6 days of battery life with the Fitbit Versa 2, which costs $199. If you only want hands-free Alexa features, you can already get them in some Bluetooth headsets such as Amazon’s own Echo buds for $129, or the $179 Jabra Elite Active 75t. The key difference is that you’re likely to wear Echo Frames all-day; something you might not want to do with a Bluetooth headset.
I understand that Amazon is going for simplicity here. And they’ve done a good job in creating a product that provides that simplicity. However, I struggle to recommend such a limited feature set for the price.
These aren’t a bad product and if you’re all in on Amazon for your smart home or your digital assistant, you’d probably like them. But this isn’t a groundbreaking wearable device for $250 when your handset or another wearable with more features can fill the same need. And if you have prescription glasses, don’t forget to add the cost of your lenses.
They’re a pass for me at this price and I think for most other people as well unless you just have to have an easier way to access Alexa all day long. If everyone could buy them for $179, that would be a better value. Even then though, I’d say they’re just a bit overpriced for what they deliver, and what they don’t. There are just too many other devices at similar price points that add more functionality for less cost.